From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler (1973) is the perfect escapist film for you and / or your stir-crazy kids, as a vicarious runaway from lockdown or life in general. The film – renamed The Runaways for video release – was based on the award winning children’s book written in the late sixties by E.L. Konigsburg. This story is a lovely credible tale for that time and place and stars two then young things and Ingrid Bergman. It really is a treat.
As the film begins an English folk song, Pretty Saro is sung without music, and this is followed by a lovely instrumental seventies score during the opening credits is heard. A young 12-year-old Claudia Kincaid (Sally Prager) heads for her favourite getaway place as she travels over meadows, up streams and through woods somewhere in Madison, New Jersey. Minutes later, her wee brother Jamie (Johnny Doran) runs to catch up with her, knowing exactly where to find her.
Claudia is happily relaxing on a branch, high up a tree, but is summoned home by her wee fraternal messenger. He hollers up at her saying she has come home to help with the family chores. Jamie however has a mission of his own. He wants the money that she owes him, or he will charge her interest (as siblings do.) He’s even worked out the interest (he’s that money obsessed).
The two kids type an anonymous letter to the museum about this finding. Claudia is upset when they get a letter back agreeing with their conclusions as she wanted to feel different, and she doesn’t. Despite her now upset and wanting to go home, the kids then use the last of their money to catch a train and a taxi to visit Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler.
It is here Ingrid Bergman as this character joins the story as Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. The children ask her butler if she will speak with them about the Italian Renaissance and she agrees. After her butler, Saxonburg (George Rose) ushers the kids into the house, Mrs Frankweiler joins the children. She’s an elderly woman with a walking stick. She immediately recognises the kids from reports and photos from the week’s newspapers.
She is a bit cranky and irritable with them and tells them off for worrying their parents. But her crotchety behaviour is also part of her personality. This woman warms to the kids, and her harsh demeanour evaporates quickly. She is bemused by them and their interest in the statue, but won’t tell them the story behind it.
She is more interested in their adventure as runaways. Claudia won’t tell her anything and wants to keep the secret of where they have been for the week in return for knowing more about the statue. Despite Mrs Frankweiler’s brusqueness, she invites the two runaways to stay for lunch. She phones their parents, as they freshen up.
She plays cards with Jamie, who loses and she gives him an IOU. Mrs Frankweiler and Jamie appear to have an easy rapport, joke and laugh with each other and talk honestly. Jamie lets slip that they stayed at the museum and Mrs Frankweiler promises them a lift home with her chauffeur in return for more information. However, Claudia arrives and is angry with Jamie for telling all.
Mrs Frankweiler tells the kids she has phoned their parents. After lunch, while Jamie and Saxonburg play cards, Mrs Frankweiler takes Claudia to her basement. This room has a door that leads to an outbuilding where she keeps a shed load of filing cabinets and the secret of the statue.
Mrs Frankweiler talks frankly about her life with her husband and Claudia talks for the first time about her real reasons for running away. The older woman seems to understand Claudia and her motives and trust grows between them. Mrs Frankweiler shows her a file with the secret behind the angel’s creator. You can find out more about Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler and her secret by watching the rest of this movie.
This was an enchanting and charming movie and I loved the well written and captivating story. The script felt natural and refreshing with realistic dialogue and conversations in all situations from all these characters. Their actions, phrases and beliefs were credible for their respective ages.
Sometimes I’ve found when children are added to a film, they are like mini adults yet here these children felt real and authentic and not precocious or annoying. These attributes added to the empathy you felt for the children in situations and made you identify more with their characters and situations.
Young Sally and Johnny were beautifully cast in their leading roles. Both were credible as close siblings and this is seen in their strong rapport and realistic banter conveying their character’s personalities perfectly. These child actors in their leading roles, carry most of the film.
Both children rose to the occasion fantastically. They convinced me of their acting talent in all the different emotional aspects of the film be it joy, sadness or curiosity. Their on-screen parents were only seen for those opening scenes, yet you felt how their words and behaviours affected Claudia as she changed from the carefree child in the credits to crying alone in her room.
The children made their characters likeable and because of this, you wanted the best for them. Both had their own individual quirks such as Claudia corrects her wee brother on his grammar, and he admits to cheating at cards with his friends. They had wild imaginations – Jamie’s from the TV and films he’s watched, and Claudia’s from more romantic times in history – and this evident in their conversations.
The film script was often seen from a child’s point of view – with their fears of being caught seen in some tense scenes and their reactions to situations childlike (yet relatable) – made the film more captivating, engaging and entrancing. Little childhood behaviours and nuances in the script also helped you relate to and identify with these young characters. This including when Jamie spoke up during the school trip visit, his fears of sleeping alone on the first night, Claudia hiding the bus ticket in her sock and Jamie overeating the free food.
Doran excelled in his brotherly role and I loved how his character bounced admirably off his big sister. This was when she corrected his grammar and his support when she was upset after the museum letter.
Young Sally Prager was easy to emphasise with as you relate to her home situation and you could feel her anger with her mother at being taken for granted and wanting to be appreciated by her. Her sadness is felt after her father’s harsh words. As he tells her off for “fantasising”, you feel her heartbreak, as you feel her father did not appreciate her and her imagination.
However, it was a joy to watch her character’s love and wonder at the artworks in the museum. This was seen in a wonderful montage where she shows her brother around the museum and when talks to her brother about the exhibits.
Her little face of childhood awe when she saw the angel statue, showed just how much this statue and its story appealed to this young girl’s imagination. Prager’s on screen rapport with Johnny Doran was credible in all their scenes where she convinced me in her big sisterly role as she looked out for them, and cared for him.
Although Ingrid Bergman was only in this film for the final third of the film, she was worth the wait. I understand her character, Mrs Frankweiler narrates this story in the book, but the timing of her appearance in this movie was perfect. With young Sally wanting to learn more about the statue, it’s a moment of childhood impulsiveness and curiosity that takes her and us to Mrs Frankweiler.
Mrs Frankweiler initially seemed gruff and sharp with the children, Bergman appeared severe yet caring as in Bergman’s performance you felt this more as a concern as an adult. However, in her initial more gruff talks with the children, you could feel little chinks of warmth and admiration for them regarding their recent adventure.
This warmth for the children increased with her playing cards with Jamie and her strong rapport with Claudia where she opened up more about the statue in heartwarming scenes. Yet as she started to share more with the children, Bergman’s character responded well to their childhood honesty. This leading to those lovely scenes.
In scenes with Claudia, this character opened up much more about her life and the statue. She identifies with the young girl, as a kindred spirit. She identifies with Claudia, believing that both want to find their own treasures and to be different. This she puts beautifully saying; “One of the greatest adventures in life is to know something that nobody else knows. Something that makes you different, where it really counts: inside yourself.
Mrs Frankweiler’s brusqueness was also with her butler was also observed, and her concern for the children’s parents. Bergman had some lovely comic scenes with her butler where she convinced me in her character as a recluse. This was seen in her dialogue and a well thought out scene where she asked for help in phoning the children’s parents from him. She had a delightful if not off-hand rapport with this butler, who understood her so well.